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Mao Vol. 1 | Review

Cover of Mao, vol. 1

Mao Vol. 1
Writer/artist: Rumiko Takahashi
Viz Media; $9.99
Rated T+ for Older Teen

When one’s career spans as many decades, and spawns as many successes, as Rumiko Takahashi’s has, it is perhaps inevitable to find elements that repeat themselves in the resultant body of work. And so Takahashi’s latest series Mao, which Viz has just begun publishing for North American audiences, will sound familiar to many fans of Takahashi’s, at least in the broadest strokes: A modern Japanese school girl travels back and forth in time to the past, where she teams up with a supernatural hero to battle yokai and demons.

If the premise sounds quite similar to that of Takahashi’s Inuyasha, which ultimately ran 56 collected volumes between 1996 and 2008, the specifics differ dramatically enough to make the first volume distinct, if still feeling somewhat familiar.

In Vol. 1 of Mao, we learn that Nanoka survived a terrible and mysterious accident when she was a small girl, being found covered in blood outside the car crash that killed her parents. Now a teenager, she follows the rumors of some school friends to the alley near where the accident happened and somehow finds herself transported a century into the past, in Japan’s Taisho era.

As soon as she arrives, she is attacked by a giant praying mantis creature, and rather reluctantly rescued by Mao, a sword-wielding exorcist, who dispatches the spectral monster, patches her up, and sends her home. When she returns to her own time, however, she finds she has strange new abilities, and she returns to Mao for answers, something she finds she’s able to do by crossing into the same alleyway she was in during her first visit.

Mao’s rather busy investigating a series of gruesome murders, however, and she soon finds herself part of his team, along with a little helpmate who turns out to be an enchanted doll. Meanwhile it becomes increasingly clear to Nanoka (and readers) that whatever is going on with her and her emerging new powers, it seems to be related to Mao’s own demon curse. which has given him an extraordinarily long life, power over demons, and the ability to use a cursed sword against demons.

At this point in her career, it should come as no surprise that Takahashi’s comics-making is as strong and assured as it is, and, having mastered several genres, here she is working in the horror-fantasy one of Inuyasha, Rin-Ne (2009-2017) and some of her earlier works, like Mermaid Saga  (1984-1994). Here the emphasis is a bit more on scary stuff, and the book earns its rating through the occasional dramatic but restrained gore and potentially disturbing imagery like, in this volume, a spider/woman hybrid demon and her “husband,”, a man made of spiders and webs in a human shape.

A new Takashashi comic is always a cause for special notice and even celebration, even if it remains to be seen how popular this one will ultimately be.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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